The Art of Seeing – Vermeer

I am one of the first to say that I learn more from contemporary artists than artists of the past. But, I should now change that. I just watched the most interesting documentary about Vermeer, and I hope you will, too.

Johannes Vermeer lived only some 42 years, and left no written details about who he was and how he lived. However, clues through a close inspection of his paintings show a man of incredible grace, someone who could project the image his viewers would see, guide their eyes like an illusionist and reward us with the tiniest, yet essential, detail. He also loved women.

Johannes Vermeer’s The Music Lesson

The documentary provides expert opinion that digs deep into how Vermeer created his images. From the colour of the ground layer, and glaze upon glaze of thin then thick paint to build up forms without harsh edges to the finishing touches of light, he was a master of colour. Vermeer painted wet on wet and his paintings look almost out of focus. But, focus is exactly what he excelled at – the focus of the viewer’s eye into the painting to see just what Vermeer wanted the viewer to see.

He played with his surroundings. He brought in angles, took out shadows, emphasized some aspects, sent others into darkness. He took light and made it work, and didn’t need to be accurate to what was in view. He tilted mirrors, added in his painting easel, removed one of the easel’s legs because it just would have crowded the image, various changes that really could not possibly be accurate…all to narrate a scene and tell the viewer what he wanted the viewer to see.

I could go on. Suffice to say, please take one hour to watch the documentary. There is so much held in this description of such an incredible master that a beginner, intermediate, even a seasoned old great can learn the art of seeing and adapt future paintings to reflect this knowledge.

I hope you enjoy the documentary. Let me know what you think and whether it will change how you paint, even in the smallest of ways. I’m off to build up layers of glazes and soften some edges.

Signatures

Almost every artist signs the face of their image. The signature, often placed in the bottom right corner, claims the painting to be by a particular artist. For me, I took a long time to feel comfortable taking a different tack.

For ages I agonized about my signature. Part of the worry was a slip of the brush and messing up my picture. Another worry was making my signature too big and taking away from the image. A third worry was not being able to control such a thin line…all these worries over something so simple.

I look at a lot of art and I look at a lot of signatures. Some are names in full, some just one name, some are just initials, and others are not signatures so much as unique marks. Sometimes, I cannot help but look at the signature that takes up a large portion of the image. I often find myself marvelling at the control it takes to make a signature look the same time after time, the intricate flare and detail some artists engage.

I got married 10 years ago and changed my last name. This meant changing my signature. I remember it came quite naturally to encompass my new last name into a flowing signature that was uniquely mine. I didn’t want to use the same signature on my art, however, so the process started again for coming up with something that I could feel was mine.

I ended up using a combination of initials and arrows. It’s a design that reflects me, reflects my last name, and is simple and easy to remember. My paintbrush – the 00 that I use for this – flows without too much trouble, and I use a colour that is already in the painting.

My biggest statement – to myself, really, as placement of a signature is purely a personal decision – is to place my signature along the side of my painting, always low down on the right. This works because most of my paintings are on deep canvases. However, I have made a few pieces on paper and then I have to place it on the front, but when I do my signature is tiny and hardly noticeable.

“I was here”
Acrylic on Evolon Paper 12″ x 18″

Here’s a challenge for you. This painting was created on Evolon paper and I framed it. Please excuse the reflections that are seen on the glass – it is on display at our local gallery. So, the challenge is: can you see my signature? It is on there, visible, but hopefully not too visible.

So, where do you sign your pictures and how do you sign them? Is signing your work a challenge for you? Have you given it much thought? I’d love to hear back.

All About Pricing

Within a year after I left my nine-to-five job and I was starting to amass a number of paintings in our basement, I asked my artist friend Ursula Medley to take a look at my work and tell me if I was ready for our town’s art gallery.

A couple of decades ago local artists banded together, created a for-profit collective and rented space. Artique Artists’ Cooperative has moved location twice, and is still promoting only local art. Ursula was a member of the cooperative, and many years ago, when I first arrived in Powell River, it was Ursula who taught me how to use oils and acrylics.

With a few tips from Ursula on how to impress the jury, and her encouragement, I filled out my Artique application and submitted three paintings to be judged. Artique allows all sorts of 2D and 3D art, however, it must be of commercial quality. And, each piece needed to be priced.

Where do you start when setting a price? “Googleopedia” always comes up with sage advice. I recall watching a video when the presenter chastised artists for setting the price bar too low. “Nobody should be below $2.50 per square inch,” he said. I found other sites that corroborated this. But, when I went into Artique and looked at the paintings currently displayed, almost none were priced so high.

I think it was another of our Powell River local artists, Rick Cepella, who suggested that buyers don’t necessarily care if a painting took more or less time to create than another of the same size. All they care about is the size of the canvas and whether the price seems appropriate. Although that might not be true for every buyer, I could see his point.

Flugelhorn Fun 24″ x 18″ framed $450

I decided to stay in keeping with my new colleagues, take Rick’s advice, and price things according to size at $1 per square inch, plus frame. And everything was great…

I have been reading up on the business of art, as there is a familiar fallacy that artists are starving, or that artists do not have a head for business. I don’t want to be one of those artists. There is a lot of information available about running a successful art business, and lots of that information will be shared here in this Artists’ Journey blog. However, this post is about pricing so I should stick with that for the moment!

It is only recently I have begun to increase my prices to reflect five years of experience, changing quality of work, how I feel when I sell a newer piece that perhaps took longer to create, and because it is the number one suggestion from business experts.

I increased my prices to $1.50 per square inch in the spring. I wrote to all of the purchasers of my paintings so far – termed “collectors” in the business world – and let them know. It’s not a huge jump, but when you think about it, it does increase the value of the paintings previously bought.

Islands of Magic, 28″ x 22″ $925

But boy, I just finished this 28″ x 22″ painting that according to my new calculation should be offered for $925! That’s about $300 more than I have charged before.

I don’t know whether I have done my pricing correctly and whether there is a “one shoe fits all” equation. And so I ask: How have you managed to price your work? Is pricing an issue for you? Do you use a calculation like I have set out here, or estimate an hourly compensation? Do you even price your work? I would love to hear back from you, because it could help others who are just setting out and looking for some clarity.

So, deep breath in, here I am world! Let’s see what happens along this quest to be business savvy in this land of creative souls.

Another Day Outside

It’s Friday again! Although, as I write this, it is raining once more – truly an unusual event for our coastline – this morning was pretty perfect for sitting outside and drawing.

If you remember, my post last Friday was of visiting our en plein air location in the pouring rain. I ran around and took reference photos then retreated to the dry interior of my vehicle. Today, being much nicer weather, brought quite a parade of visitors to our painting spot.

Mermaid Cove access ramp and artists

Mermaid Cove is named for a divers’ attraction. A mermaid stands up from the floor of the ocean about 50 feet below the surface. A concrete ramp leads down into the water, which I presume the divers use, and which no doubt works well for wheelchairs, too.

Two of my colleagues chose the ramp as a setup place for their work. Their view along the jagged coastline was beautiful.

For me, I went to a spot I had found last week and narrowed down the view considerably to just include a bit of island, headland and rocks. I am still on a mission to “master” rocks.

I am not sure whether you can tell, but there is a person in the photo. In fact, there were lots of people. This is one of the “joys” of painting in public outdoor spaces. Within 10 minutes of setting up, children were everywhere. An inflatable made its way into the water with kids inside, rowing out to the marker buoy above the mermaid. Their delightful banter and excitement was quite lovely company. They were good at finding snakes – there were a few basking in the warmth – and crabs and starfish.

Anyway, I quickly sketched out a thumbnail to make sure I wanted to spend a few hours on the scene, then drew it out on the Strathmore 400 mixed media card I used once before. Using the Promarkers, I set about mapping tones as best I could. These granite rocks are ideal for drawing, but they are difficult to get right with colour. If I did this again, I would not use the salmon colour on the rocks as it stands out too much from the rest of the scene – in fact, that’s all I see when I look at this. But, with pens there is no going back. I might grey over it to dull it down. I am getting more used to the Promarkers and like them for these short, small creations.

Have you been out yet to sketch/draw/paint a local scene? If so, feel free to post the image on The Artists’ Journey Facebook page.

Journey of 1000 strokes

The same year as artist Drew Burnham came to town, I signed up for a day’s workshop with local artist Alfred Muma; two artists with extremely different styles, yet both willing to share their techniques and encourage others on their creative path.

We have two lino prints of Alfred’s in our house, one of the old North Island Princess ferry that ran for 60 years between Texada Island and Powell River (a new ferry, the Island Discovery, took over that route last week as the NIP retired), and the other of our local beach and the paper mill.

An artist since the ’70s, Alfred is quite an inspiration. And so it was that on this particular Saturday in late fall I arrived at a portable school room on the premises of one of our elementary schools with three other students.

We learned about perspective, about view points, and about thumbnail sketches. Alfred created a still life display out of various objects and we walked around it, stopping, sketching thumbnails, then moving on. We started our main pieces by using charcoal to sketch in the design, which was then hit with a piece of cloth like swatting a fly (not that I do that). I decided to try something different, and got out my set of palette knives.

Unnamed, palette knife study – 2016

The finished painting is stored in my basement and likely will never have a title or be put on display. However, I remember time slowing in that workshop, and me feeling totally supported as I tried out this new way of applying colour. Whatever the outcome, I learned a lot that day, and I have gone on to use my palette knives with somewhat confidence since then.

If you get the chance to study, even just for a few hours, with an artist in your own community who knows what he or she is doing and can convey that information in a supportive way, take it. You never know where a little help along the way can lead.

Rainy Day

Over the past four weeks, I have met with other artists each Friday for an en plein air session. I wrote about it a couple of posts ago. Today is Friday, the fourth in a row, and it is raining. More accurately: pouring!

My art pals are dropping out one by one, and my stubborn streak is strengthening. I have everything packed, lunch is made, and come hell or high water (pretty apt), I am going to give it a go!

First things first, I should show you the finished sketch from last Friday’s session, down at Saltery Bay. The trees on the land in the background took literally ages. The sketch is now framed.

Back to this morning. I step out our front door and the rain has stopped. Yes! And, the rain is no longer falling for most of the journey south – until about five minutes from my destination.

And so it is that I tootle through the forest, which is also a provincial campground, to the parking area before a 200m walk to the shore. It is a deluge! Well, I can at least go and take some photos…carefully keeping the camera as dry as possible. Within moments I am soaked, but being in a forest when it’s raining is the best time to see a forest. Everything seems so alive, like it is growing right there before my eyes. Yes, there is no other human around (except perhaps somebody in a makeshift camp perhaps in it for the long haul through Covid) however, nature is almost deafening.

So, I am soaked, but I did capture reference photos of the area. I have chickened out of sitting in my car to draw a scene through the drip-soaked windscreen. Instead, the blower is on full blast, the heat turned up – because the whole car interior was steamy – and I’m heading home to paint in the comfort of four walls and a roof. There is always next Friday 🙂 Here are photos from the excursion.

Misty coastline
Vivid rain-soaked colours
Through the car windscreen

Portraits and Palettes

Last summer, artist Ursula Medley suggested I watch Landscape Artist of the Year and Portrait Artist of the Year by Sky TV. I found them on Youtube and started to binge watch. Oh, I loved them. I went through 2013, 2014, 2015 and I had 2016 all queued up on my favourites. Then I went away for 3 weeks and when I got back…they were gone!

So, what was so addictive, and why did they disappear? Set in the UK, for the landscape artists, each week 8 contestants would arrive at National Heritage location and have 4 hours to paint the scenery. For the portrait artists, 9 contestants would arrive at Battersea Art Centre and paint one of three celebrities.

It wasn’t so much the scenery or the celebrity, it was more watching how all the artists would approach painting in a different way. And, even though they had the same subject matter, each result would be very different from the next.

I can’t say I always agreed with the judges, but regardless this was a great learning opportunity.

So, why am I mentioning it now? Well, with the Covid 19 lockdown, Sky TV has been airing Portrait Artist of the Week for four hours on its Facebook page and a short 25-minute summary on Youtube. I am bringing this up because Episode 3 provides the suggestion of a very limited palette for skin tones.

Click on the link and either watch the episode from start to finish (bearing in mind this is very different from the full episodes that were airing each year) or skim through to about 12 minutes. You will see Tai Shan Schierenberg, a well-known artist in his own right and one of the judges, explain and demonstrate how to get skin tones from just four colours – titanium white, yellow ochre, cadmium red and black.

Wildfire Worker 2019

It is these little nuggets that lead to notes on scraps of paper littering my paint box. Capturing skin tones is hugely difficult. I have tried and tried, yet I see now that a simple palette of four colours could have saved me a lot of time.

As to why all of the episodes from past years disappeared…well, I don’t know. Perhaps they were just too darn popular!

Now, just for a treat, I have a full first episode for you of Portrait Artist of the Year 2020. I found this series quite by chance as it appeared on Youtube just days after appearing on Sky TV. However, I have still not found 2019, 2018, 2017 and the Landscape Artist of the Year seems to have disappeared completely. Oh well. Grab a cup of tea, sit back and see if you get addicted, too – if you do, perhaps you can still find the whole series on Youtube 🙂

En plein air

It is overcast with a little sliver of sunshine poking through, five degrees cooler than yesterday and the wind is threatening to build. Today is an en plein air day and I will be meeting up with four artist friends in a couple of hours.

The west coast of British Columbia is a place joined by ferries. Inlets curve and curl, deep fjords cutting into the mainland. In a car-cultured world, ferries are a necessity and our destination today is down at one of these ferry terminals.

Well, actually, it is right next door to the terminal. There is a little harbour and it will be the small boats tied up to the dock that will be our subject.

So, what to take? Over the years I have wisened up to reduction. Less is definitely more and although it would be good to take an easel, canvas, all my paints, it just isn’t practical. The intent of painting outside is not necessarily to paint an entire picture from start to finish, but to immerse within the environment and gather enough information so that back home, where I have everything I need, I can use that research to create, hopefully, a compelling piece of art.

A deck chair, waterproof jacket, extra sweater – should I take the umbrella? – two sketch pads (one for just the black ink pens and the other if I decide to use my Promarker pens), lunch, water, camera, and a backpack to carry most of these items.

Ok, seven hours later and here I am back at home, with a few mosquito bites and a sketch to show for it. The weather was beautiful, a slight breeze kept me holding my paper down, and the insects kept me distracted. However, that is what en plein air is all about. Here is my sketch.

Sitting at the dock, Saltery Bay

If you look at the photo above, you can see I have narrowed down the focus to just include one and a half boats. The sailboat is the one with the yellow door, followed by the red awninged motor boat behind. I decided to ignore all other boats.

And, you can see it is unfinished. I have yet to fill in the rest of the trees on the island beyond, but I gathered enough data to know I could finish that at home.

A note, too, that these boats move…literally. One of my artist friends was creating a lovely watercolour of a line of boats along a dock and one of them left. So, it is good to take photos as soon as possible to at least have something to work from should your subject move away!

I hope this inspires you to grab pen and paper, a snack and some water, and venture outside – even into your backyard – and draw.

Ambassadors

WordPress provides two weeks or more of instruction for new bloggers. As I follow along the tutorials and do the assignments, I come across inspiring blogs from others. One such other is Bobbie Herron.

Bobbie recently posted The Perks of a “Look at that” Attitude on her Aloft with Inspiration blog. In it, reference is made to a 12-minute video from John Muir Laws: Be a Nature Journal Ambassador. As Bobbie suggests, take a moment and watch the video and then make sure you read through her post.

We all have our reasons, said or unsaid, why we find solace looking at an element of nature with a sense of admiration. Really, what isn’t there to admire about nature? The colour palette always works – if unsure, look at a meadow in full bloom and the depths of colour that thread together to create the tapestry of unified chaos that we observe.

Shortly after starting my own Artists’ Journey, I realized I was looking at things – anything – differently. I was seeing the lights and darks, the shapes, watching how the “thing” moved (if it did) or took up space, and how the shadows played off its surface (think of a wooden stool). This was the calming, taking a breath, slowing down, meditative nature of looking with all senses.

Poinsettia in ink and colour pencil on paper

You can do this. Just like Bobbie spent a few moments admiring and then sketching a rhododendron, you have the time to pick up a pencil, pen or paint brush, and paper, and first look then look and draw. See what you can come up with and how time slows down.

A few days away

Being on the Artists’ Journey does, of course, include time to be creative. When I had first chosen my acrylic paints, I had envisioned spending countless hours sitting on the bow of our very modest sailboat painting the splendid scenery we are able to access. I tried that once and the boat moved so much I gave up. I have now realized that pen and paper is a much better solution, and rather than sitting on the bow, I hole up in the cockpit.

I did just that yesterday morning. We had anchored at Smugglers Cove, north of Vancouver, Canada, and were stern tied to the shore. This is one of my favourite locations and looking up at the shoreline bluffs is one of my favourite pastimes. It wasn’t long before I got out the pens and paper – a new type for me: Strathmore’s Mixed Media 400 series – and time melted away.

Rocky Outcropping, Smugglers Cove, 01.06.20

I recently purchased a set of cool and warm grey Winsor & Newton Promarkers along with their portrait set. Most of what you see on the rock is created by the Promarkers. I was really happy with how they worked with this new paper.

This post is a bit of a blip in the Artists Journey posts, but it was inspired by a blog post I read earlier today by artist Christine Mallaband-Brown. She’s participating in the sketch challenge set by Stoke on Trent in the UK, and her materials of choice are pen and paper.

You can pick up a regular black biro, a pencil, or a sharpie marker pen and use a piece of scrap paper and just look at something – a plant, a bookshelf, a table and chairs – and start drawing. Why not give it a go?